Postmortem: Game Developer magazine
July 5, 2013 Page 1 of 3
In this postmortem from the final (June/July 2013) issue of the magazine, former Game Developer magazine editor-in-chief Brandon Sheffield turns the critical lens inward to examine the ups and downs of the magazine's 19-year legacy.
Game Developer has had a good run. We started in March 1994 as a quarterly, and moved quickly into a monthly publication as demand grew. Over the years we've seen over two dozen editors, multiple company name changes, four major design overhauls (frankly, there should've been more), and hundreds of articles that have helped developers do their jobs better (we hope).
And now, a few months shy of its 20th birthday, after winning a slew of magazine industry awards, Game Developer is coming to a close, because print is no longer an attractive market.
There was a lot more we wanted to do, and we hoped to be able to serve you for years to come. The magazine was taking more of an indie and small-team bent under Patrick Miller's leadership as the market has shifted in that direction, and we hoped to open a venue for a host of new voices.
As the magazine's longest- running editor, at eight years, I thought it might be fi tting to do a postmortem of the entire operation in this, its fi nal issue. Plus, Patrick and I fi gured that since we had been asking devs to take a frank look at what went right and wrong with their work for so long, it was only fair that we do the same with ours.
What Went Right
1. The "Prestige" of Print
People respected the magazine, which certainly made us editors happy. Often at trade shows we would get comments like "Oh, Game Developer! That's the one publication I read!" Granted, most of these people were getting the magazine for free, but it was clear that people viewed it as respectable (even though most folks outside the U.S. had never heard of it).
No offense is meant to our Gamasutra siblings, but we would often get pitches saying, "Well, I guess I could put this on Gamasutra, but I'd really like to have it in print." For some people, print still had that allure of being "published," and having written something of import. It's almost analogous to the prestige of making a console game -- we grew up with it, so it must be "better," right? This is why so many game developers have blindly put their games on consoles, when other platforms are doing much better. We like history, I suppose!
That went for us editors, too. Every month we would pour ourselves into this thing, staying up late, working overtime, putting final touches and making last-minute edits to ensure the magazine was the best it could be—and at the end of our monthly cycle, we'd have an actual product we could touch. It's a great feeling. Many game developers work for years on a game, and when it's out, they have to start all over again. We got to do this monthly, knowing we were actually creating something.
2. Ties with GDC
As much as I personally wanted to differentiate the magazine from its parent company, I will admit that our ties with GDC were helpful. We got greater visibility at the shows, not to mention a generous ad boost, and it didn't hurt that the higher-ups looked at the magazine as a sort of soft marketing arm for the show. It helped us maintain relevance and ground to stand on as other magazines closed around us. That couldn't last forever, but it helped for a time.
In fact, I think a greater convergence would've been helpful -- turn Gamasutra into gamedeveloper.com, and unite all the properties. But, alas, we will never know!
3. Annual State-of-the-Industry Reports
For over a dozen years the magazine had been running reports like the Salary Survey and the Front Line Awards, which are the only contiguous running reports on game developer salaries and ranking of game development software—period.
Neither of these was perfect, we'll be the first to admit, but there wasn't much better to be done. As my former managing editor Jill Duffy said to me, "We did that shit right by hiring an outside expert to conduct the survey and analyze the results, and it was smart to stick with the same contracted partner year over year."
Since statistics were outside our wheelhouse, for the Salary Survey we used a professional (and expensive!) statistician to sift through thousands of survey responses to bring us valuable data. Some folks have criticized the survey, because they feel the numbers are inflated -- but it's really the best we could have done without somehow getting all dev studios to give us their employee numbers. When that's the sort of industry we work in, we'll all be holding hands and hugging rainbows, and won't need money anyway!
The Front Line Awards are some of the biggest industry awards on the game development software side, and companies actually cared about these things. Epic, for example, has been touting its running tally as best engine for a number of years.
We've had a few other surveys and objective reports throughout the years, and have always done our utmost to make sure they were accurate. A lot goes on behind the scenes with these things, and I think we did quite well with them.
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